The Yoga of the Breath

How long could you survive without eating?  What about drinking?  How long could you go without breathing?

Respiration is probably the most important source of nourishment we receive and one of the most under recognized or utilized. Is it possible that, by modifying our breathing pattern, we can dramatically increase or health in the same way that changing our diet or environment influences our state of well being?  The short answer, absolutely.

In no other form of activity is there a greater emphasis placed on the breath than in yoga.  Not only to the postures bring tone and flexibility to the body, but also increase the elasticity of the rib cage, remove congestion from the diaphragm and increase the supply of oxygenated blood to targeted regions of the body.

This increased circulation nourishes specific organ systems, depending on where the pressure in the pose is or is not being applied.  For example, in doing an inverted posture such as headstand, the brain is saturated with increased circulation and oxygen, thereby increasing mental alertness and clarity.  This same principle can be applies to all of the other postures, each with their distinct attributes and effects.

I once worked with Jenny, a lung cancer survivor, who, after four rounds of chemo-therapy, some deep soul searching and 3-4 yoga classes reported a measured increase her breathing capacity by 15-20%. What’s more, she discovered a means by which she could begin to reinhabit and trust her body again.

There are many, many yogic techniques that pattern the breath in specific ways that are conducive to increased vitality and equanimity. As a simple experiment I invite you to sit up strait, breath evenly through both nostrils and ever so slightly begin to extend the length of your exhalation, at a comfortable and sustainable rate.  Do this for a couple of minutes, release the breath from any modification and notice the effect.  Often the solutions to our problems are lying right beneath our nose, in this case, quite literally.

Training Article -Donation

Some of the very first classes I took were offered on a donation basis, back in the early 90’s.  My teacher, Perry, conducted classes out of the Vet’s Hall.  There were no mats, we did the class on the carpet and needed to be out of there before 6:30, to make space for the ensuing twelve-step meeting.  He just put out a little basket, took a step back and let go.  Swaha!

Our Teacher training is modeled after the same idea though I haven’t completely let go as much as Perry did; there is a minimum level of contribution ($1,200).  I think this gives the students something to reference, ensures some level of commitment, is generous, encourages diversity and is sustainable.  Everybody wins.

I ask prospective students to reflect on the value they will receive, their means and their willingness to reciprocate when deciding what they are willing to contribute.  Most choose to give beyond the minimum amount and, we have had students for whom money was not a viable option.  Many of these students we accommodated in the form of trading for child care.  From a parenting perspective, having a yogi student watching the kids was an ideal arrangement.

Running a contribution-based training was something of a revelation and stemmed, in part, out of my study of classical yoga.  There is a long history of selfless service and charity in the yoga tradition and I wanted to align myself with those forces as much as possible.

I have been a student of yoga since 1991 and gradually the practice has shaped and influenced the character of my life –including my livelihood.  The donation based concept is a reflection of that evolution.  I feel blessed to practice yoga in this way.

Training Article -Integration

Central to the program are the practices of pranayama, meditation and asanas.  The postures make up 65% of the course content and are taught from both a flowing and a stationary perspective.  Rather than teaching a specific sequence of poses we teach about the deep intelligence behind the postures and how they interrelate with one another.  Based on this understanding, students then construct class sequences that take many factors, such as heath concerns or constitution, into consideration.
While the study of the content is significant, another important variable is the community of practitioners.  I’ve seen many groups pass through since we first opened our doors in 2003, and each of them has a distinct character.  The power and significance of a group of strangers coming together for a unified purpose cannot be over emphasized.  It is truly remarkable to observe relationships form, as the students support and encourage one another throughout duration of this rigorous program.
The training is a significant investment of participant’s time, energy and resources.  We meet three times a week for a total of 13 hours each week for nearly five months.  It is a gradual and transformational journey in which students have a chance to practice yoga intensely.  Yoga is very powerful/transformational and we emphasis a sustainable integration of the techniques and lessons into one’s life.

Training Article -Content

Practice and theory are equally important and ideally support one another because yoga is both the journey and the destination.  With that in mind we expose the students to different methods of practice including, pranayama, meditation, devotional and ritualistic practices, chanting, real life experiments, dietary changes, yantra painting and of course asana.

All of these techniques are taught in an approachable and integrated fashion, to reveal some fundamental themes found in yoga practice -in all of its forms of expression.    Nearly a dozen presenters play a part in the training, each with a specific emphasis.  I feel that this comprehensive approach is educationally rich, evocative and wholly unique.

Axis Yoga offers a 200hr teacher training program designed to support students in their personal enrichment and desire to teach.   We believe that personal practice and insight are the foundation for effective teaching and emphasize the importance of developing a home/personal practice.

Training Article -Overview

The practice of yoga is ongoing and it has the potential to permeate every aspect of one’s life, both internal and external.  Yoga is a mind-set that can inform all of our relationships; to our peers, to our environment and to ones self.  It can infuse and inform each and every waking breath.

Inherent in this process is the expansion of awareness.  The practitioner moves from a more contracted sense of identity into a more universal understanding.  That process is called yoga, the union of individuality with universality.

Throughout the ages yogic masters have utilized different methods to explore the nature of this union.  They drew upon different philosophies, meditations, devotional practices, rituals and physical exercises to reveal that spiritual identity.

The training begins with an appreciation of this perspective and from there teaches students various methods of practice and realization.  I think this is one of the major distinguishing points of our training. The methods are there to support the greater process of discovery.  It is akin to putting the horse in front of the cart.

Training Article

Recently I was asked, by a freelance writer, if I would be willing to have an article about the training written.  I liked the idea so it didn’t take long for me to say yes.  I’ve been working closely with the author and was asked to draft a response to a number of questions about the program.

It has been a real enjoyable process and one that I think anyone who is interested in Axis Yoga may be able to appreciate.  What follows is a series of excerpts that that I think illustrate the distinguishing features of our program.  I’ll be sure to let you know when the printed copy comes out!